From May 8 to May 10, 31 NFL teams will try to take significant steps toward knocking off the Seattle Seahawks as Super Bowl champions.
Many teams need more than just one offseason to cure what ails them, but each team has to start somewhere. Why not make the 2014 NFL draft the jump-off point for something big?
The following mock draft represents the most sensible selections for each pick in the first round.
1. Houston Texans: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The Texans need a star and a playmaker to be the face of their franchise. "Johnny Football" has the charisma and talent to fill both needs for a struggling franchise in one of the football capitals of the United States.
Manziel and the Texans are a perfect fit.
2. St. Louis Rams (via Washington): Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Sam Bradford desperately needs weapons if the Rams offense is ever going to be dangerous and balanced. No St. Louis wide receiver had more than 40 receptions in 2013. Drafting a stud like Sammy Watkins would give Bradford an unquestioned No. 1 receiver.
With Tavon Austin in the slot, St. Louis' aerial attack could be formidable in 2014. Rams 101 writer Brent Lancaster talks about just how spectacular that pairing of receivers could be:
I will say this again: if Sammy Watkins and Tavon Austin are on the same field, I don't care who's throwing the ball. There will be TD's— Brent Lancaster (@lannyosu) December 31, 2013
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Jacksonville can't afford to wait until the second round to take a quarterback. The Jags need a game-changer from a talent standpoint, as well as someone whose work ethic can be infectious.
Carr is proving himself to be that type of prospect. Along with his insane numbers at Fresno State in 2013 (5,082 passing yards, 50 touchdowns), Carr's professionalism and study habits impressed Jags coach Gus Bradley at the Senior Bowl.
Per The Fresno Bee, Bradley, who coached the South team at the Senior Bowl, said this about Carr: "He sits in the front of the meeting room, takes meticulous notes, really into it. He's done a great job."
The Jags need that kind of leader.
4. Cleveland Browns: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Brian Hoyer played pretty well in limited action in 2013, and Jason Campbell wasn't bad in relief, but the Browns shouldn't try to sell either to their fanbase as the starting quarterback in 2014. Even if they do, the team should have a potential star waiting in the wings.
That potential star should be Teddy Bridgewater.
At one point, he was thought to be the top prospect in the draft, but somehow he's slipped despite not having played a game. It's always funny how that happens leading up to draft day. Nevertheless, the Browns would be wise to make Bridgewater their pick here.
5. Oakland Raiders: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Addressing the offensive line is the smartest move for Oakland in Round 1. The Raiders quarterbacks were sacked 44 times in 2013. It might be tempting to look at one of the remaining highly touted quarterbacks, but Terrelle Pryor deserves another chance to start.
The team was 3-6 in games he started and 1-6 in the others.
Robinson's size (6'5", 320 pounds) and athleticism are reminiscent of the Philadelphia Eagles' Jason Peters. He's raw, but he could be a dominant bookend tackle for years to come.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
After another year with poor pass-rushing production, Atlanta needs to draft a beast.
Clowney is a physically gifted prospect, but he did have a down year in 2013. He saw his sack totals dip from 13 in 2012 to just three in 2013.
That said, there is no denying his ability. Recently he's been saying the right things to convince teams he's ready to impress. It could begin at the NFL Scouting Combine where Clowney says he's going to put on a show.
He told Josh Kendall of GoGamecocks.com that he wants to be the No. 1 pick and that he will participate in every drill at the combine:
I want to be No. 1. I am ready. I am upfront. I am not going to hold anything back. I am going to do everything. The numbers I am going to put up are going to be amazing.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Mike Glennon was a pleasant surprise in 2013. He may not be a future star, but he's certainly good enough to begin 2014 as the team's starter. With Glennon under center and a presumably healthy Doug Martin returning to the backfield, the Bucs need to go about the business of strengthening the offensive line.
Tampa Bay quarterbacks took 47 sacks in 2013.
Matthews could leap ahead of Robinson in the race to see who will be the first O-lineman off the board. If he's there at No. 7, the Bucs should take him.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
It's unclear how the quarterbacks will ultimately rank on the various big boards across the NFL, but the Vikings will probably get the guy the other three teams in need didn't want.
That doesn't mean Minnesota will get the short end of the stick, though.
Per Ross Jones of Fox Sports, QB Guru Steve Clarkson says Bortles has similarities to Indianapolis Colts Andrew Luck:
That's high praise, and if it turns out to be an accurate comparison, the Vikings will have hit the jackpot.
9. Buffalo Bills: Khalil Mack, OLB/DE, Buffalo
Don't be fooled by the small program. Mack had 10.5 sacks in 2013 and has proven himself to be a versatile and complete linebacker. He's a real talent that would make the Bills' pass rush even better than it already is and would add stability to the linebacker position along with Kiko Alonso.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Detroit had just two interceptions from its cornerbacks in 2013. High-level play from the secondary is the one thing the Lions defense is missing.
Justin Gilbert had seven picks in 2013. He's a ball hawk with game-breaking speed. Aside from his abilities in pass coverage, Gilbert also excels as a kick returner. The Lions could improve two areas of their squad by selecting Gilbert.
11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA
After producing just 36 sacks in 2013, the Titans could stand to add an impact edge-rusher. Barr has the speed and ferocity necessary to excel as a pass-rusher in a 3-4 scheme, or as a defensive end in a 4-3.
To put it plainly, he's a playmaker on defense, and that's something the Titans desperately need.
12. New York Giants: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
If the New York Giants pull the trigger on this selection, there will be a lot of teams beneath them left upset. Mosley is perhaps the most NFL-ready player in the draft.
He's fast, strong, smart and he's a proven leader of one of the nation's best defenses over the last two years in college football.
The G-Men need an injection of youth in the second level of their defense. No player could jump-start things better than Mosley.
13. St. Louis Rams: Taylor Lewan, OL, Michigan
If the Rams follow the blueprint in this mock, they could be in position to challenge for a Super Bowl in two years or less. While Watkins would give Bradford the No. 1 receiver he needs, Lewan could help provide the protection to keep him on the field.
Lewan has that sort of positive mean streak that fits head coach Jeff Fisher's style. Taking him here would give St. Louis an epic example of speed and power selections in the first round.
14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Chicago has a plethora of needs on the defensive side of the ball, but the biggest is in the middle of the defensive line. The Bears can address the disaster that is their safety situation in the second round.
With Henry Melton heading into free agency and coming off a torn ACL, the Bears need to at least add depth at defensive tackle. Aaron Donald has an excellent motor, he sheds blocks well and could be the force in the middle the Bears lacked in 2013.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
There isn't a great deal that divides Darqueze Dennard and Justin Gilbert. The latter has a size advantage, but Dennard is every bit as good of a cover corner back.
Pittsburgh needs youth in the secondary, and Dennard's abilities as a shutdown corner would be a great asset.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Without Anquan Boldin in 2013, Baltimore's passing game sputtered. Torrey Smith is a deep threat, but he needs a possession receiver to create those deep opportunities.
Evans is 6'5", has great hands and is a fierce competitor. A presence like Evans would be the best addition for Joe Flacco and the Ravens' offense.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
The Cowboys' defense is in a situation similar to the Bears', as there are a lot of holes to fill. The best way for Dallas to address its defensive deficiencies is with a potential stud pass-rusher.
Ealy is 6'5" 275 pounds. Because of his size and strength, he has the ability to play both inside and outside. For a team like Dallas that has so many needs on defense, a versatile talent like Ealy is a sensible pick.
18. New York Jets: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Geno Smith's rookie season was tough. He was fourth in the NFL in interceptions and the Jets missed the playoffs once again. Smith has to get more accurate for sure, but he also needs more weapons in the passing game.
Lee's speed and big-play ability could spread the field and create opportunities underneath for Smith.
19. Miami Dolphins: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
If your second-year franchise quarterback was sacked 58 times, it's obvious what the primary focus in the draft should be. The Miami Dolphins have to draft someone who can keep Ryan Tannehill upright.
Cyrus Kouandjio is viewed as raw by some, but most would agree he has a high ceiling. The 6'5" 310-pound monster is still developing and has an elite frame. Miami should make him Tannehill's personal protector.
20. Arizona Cardinals: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Believe it or not, the 41 sacks the Arizona Cardinals allowed in 2013 was an improvement over the 58 it allowed in 2012. Still, that number is too high for a team with aspirations of making the playoffs and making some noise.
Zack Martin could ultimately wind up playing guard in the NFL, but he has value because of his versatility and strength.
21. Green Bay Packers: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Jermichael Finley is a free agent, and his future is up in the air after a scary neck injury. Green Bay would be smart to add a playmaker like Amaro to supply the same threat up the seams that Finley did.
At 6'5" and 260 pounds, Amaro has the size to give defenses matchup nightmares in pass coverage. Amaro has great intangibles as well. This tweet is symbolic of those qualities:
You have to be in Love with the Process of being great. (In process) http://t.co/uvl63FUKjl— Jace Amaro (@J_ACER22) February 4, 2014
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
The Eagles' 32nd-ranked pass defense is begging for an upgrade on several levels. Shoring up the secondary is a smart approach.
Calvin Pryor has the size at 6'1" 210 pounds to be a force against the run as well as the pass. Pryor had three interceptions in 2013. He could help allow the Eagles' defense to catch up with the offense.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
Alex Smith's specialty is short-to-intermediate passes. In order for the Chiefs' offense to be effective, Smith needs wide receivers who can turn short passes into long gains.
Beckham can do just that. In 2013, he routinely made plays of 25-plus yards and proved to be a game-changer.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Lamarcus Joyner, CB, Florida State
The Bengals are in a strange spot. The team doesn't have glaring weaknesses. As a matter of fact, to take the next step, it may have to make a very difficult decision at quarterback. Before the organization changes directions under center, though, it could use this pick to add depth and youth to the secondary.
Joyner is undersized at 5'8", but he has great intangibles and athleticism. He's a feisty player who is similar to the Chicago Bears Tim Jennings.
25. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
San Diego's run defense allowed 4.6 yards per carry in 2013. That was tied for the fourth-highest average in the NFL. Getting more stout on the defensive front would be a smart move.
Nix is a load on the inside and he could be reunited with old college teammate Manti Te'o. The latter benefited from having a wide and strong force in front of him. It allowed him to pick and hit his gaps without facing blocks from offensive linemen.
Nix may be able to have a similar impact in San Diego from Day 1.
26. Cleveland Browns (via Indianapolis): David Yankey, OG, Stanford
After hopefully addressing their need at quarterback, the Browns should be able to improve the offensive line with this pick.
Cleveland hasn't had success running the ball in years. The team hasn't ranked higher than 20th in the NFL in rushing yards since 2009. Adding a big, nasty, NFL-ready guard like Yankey could be a step toward improving this important part of the team.
27. New Orleans Saints: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints felt the loss of left tackle Jermon Bushrod in 2013. Brees was sacked 37 times, and even when he wasn't, he didn't seem as comfortable in the pocket with inadequate and inconsistent protection on his blind side.
Adding a fast-rising prospect like Moses could be a move that helps restore the Saints' offensive line back to an elite level.
28. Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Steve Smith is long in the tooth. The Carolina Panthers need to add weapons in the passing game for Cam Newton. The Panthers were 29th in the NFL in passing yards in 2013. At 6'5", 230-plus pounds, Benjamin represents a huge red-zone target and would immediately add another threat to Carolina's passing game.
If he can improve his concentration in other situations, he could be one of the steals of the draft late in the first round.
29. New England Patriots: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
With Vince Wilfork aging, the Pats have to be concerned with adding depth at defensive tackle. Jernigan is the type of defensive tackle that can occupy two interior offensive linemen. If he pans out, he can make the rest of his defensive linemen better, as well as free up the Pats' young linebackers.
For the time being, he and Wilfork could be a dynamic pair against the run.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Boldin and Michael Crabtree are excellent possession receivers, but the Niners could use a game-breaking receiver in the slot.
Cooks has tantalizing speed and good hands, and he's a legitimate threat in the return game. Drafting a player like him would give the 49ers' offense a new dimension and possibly improve the team's average starting field position.
For a squad built around its defense, that's invaluable.
31. Denver Broncos: Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida
Champ Bailey will be 36 in June and has already lost a step. Getting younger at cornerback should be the Broncos' No. 1 priority.
Roberson didn't have a ton of production at Florida, but Eric Edholm of Yahoo! Sports thinks the former Gator is a rising prospect on draft boards. He wrote:
"Not all agree he’s this good, and he must add weight, but climbing fast."
32. Seattle Seahawks: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The Seahawks obviously don't have a ton of needs, but if the team lands a legitimate threat at tight end, it could bring the offense close to the same level as the vaunted defense.
Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins makes some sense, but Eric Ebron is the better prospect and is more explosive.
He's faster, a slicker route-runner and he has great hands. His addition would add yet another threat to Seattle's offense.
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